Most of the information that reaches our senses is unconsciously processed, affecting our behaviour but out of voluntary control. Only a small portion of our environment gains conscious awareness, shaping our “perception of the word”. Attention has been proposed as the mechanism that selects relevant information, prioritizing its arrival to a conscious state. Although the details are to be worked out, the orienting of attention seems to correlate with activity in large-scale brain networks. Whether the integrity of these attentional networks is necessary for conscious perception is still under debate. Converging evidence demonstrates that endogenous attention is dissociable from conscious perception. However, evidence from brain damaged patients suggests that some form of attention is actually necessary for a conscious representation of the environment. Damage of the right parietal lobe results in a syndrome known as neglect, which consists of a complete lost of awareness of contra-lesional stimulation. Deficits of spatial attention in neglect are not generalized, but concern foremost exogenous attention, with a relative sparing of endogenous orienting. This suggests that while endogenous attention might not be necessary for consciousness to emerge, some form of exogenous attention is a necessary condition for conscious perception. The main aim of our project is to explore the relationship between attention and consciousness and its implementation in the brain. This objective will be approached by using a variety of techniques. Our results will help us understand the neural basis of attention, consciousness, and voluntary control, which will directly apply in better diagnostic techniques as well as improved rehabilitation programs for brain damaged individuals.
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